Literature

Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger

September 26, 2016
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Raves for Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger

Alice Kaplan’s “biography” of Albert Camus’s existential cult classic, Looking for The Stranger, made quite the debut this past week. Drawing praise from across the web and the subject of hefty reviews in several major publications (this post doesn’t even include one from Le Monde and the book’s second profile by Publishers Weekly), Looking for The Stranger’s prescience stems in part from its subject’s applicability to contemporary conversations about race and class, and inpart from Kaplan’s ability to turn the standard biography on its head, focusing on the historical circumstances that allowed Camus to produce a mass-market paperback—despite personal turmoil, the threat of censorship, and publishing industry fallout—which went on to sell six-million copies to date, rather than tracing an overly-baked life narrative of the author. Kaplan’s abilities as a storyteller are often acclaimed, so nothing new there, but here follow some fresh critical lauds below! From John Williams at the New York Times: To this new project, Kaplan brings equally honed skills as a historian, literary critic, and biographer. . . . In an epilogue, Ms. Kaplan goes a step further and looks for the identity of the Arab involved in the real-life altercation that inspired the novel’s pivotal scene. What she learns about him . . .

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John Williams for the New York Times on Out of the Wreck I Rise

September 23, 2016
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John Williams for the New York Times on Out of the Wreck I Rise

  Out of the Wreck I Rise, edited by Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, positions itself, as its subtitle indicates, “A Literary Companion to Recovery.” The poetics of recovery isn’t really a field (and, if we’re going by Aristotle, poetics is a system, not a discipline), but this volume comes close to illuminating a relationship between creativity and the drive to reclaim possession of one’s life. This past week, John Williams previewed the anthology for the New York Times Book Review, and coeditor Neil Steinberg posted a playlist at Largehearted Boy for some ambient inspiration that “speaks to what the book is about.” From the September 2, 2016, issue of the New York Times Book Review: “Alcoholics Anonymous,” commonly referred to as the Big Book, helped to establish the 12-step program. It’s been an indispensable guide for millions since it was published in 1939. A new, very different kind of book, “Out of the Wreck I Rise: A Literary Companion to Recovery,” by Neil Steinberg and Sara Bader, aims to be a complementary comfort. An anthology of excerpts about addiction and recovery, the book includes many names you’d expect to see on the subject: John Cheever, John Berryman, Raymond Carver. Maybe you wouldn’t . . .

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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

September 9, 2016
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Yves Bonnefoy (1923–2016): A Tribute from His Translators

  The French poet and critic Yves Bonnefoy, who died on July 1, 2016, was unusually well served by his translators, who shepherded many of his books into publication in English. Thanks to their devotion and talent, readers in the English-speaking world can appreciate why Bonnefoy was, as the New York Times described him, “France’s pre-eminent poet of the postwar era.” The two most prolific publishers of Bonnefoy’s work in English have been Seagull Books and the University of Chicago Press. Seagull’s Naveen Kishore and Chicago’s Alan Thomas invited Bonnefoy’s translators to recall their collaborations with the poet. ***  Richard Pevear I first met Yves Bonnefoy at a lunch organized by Jonathan Galassi, who was then an editor at Random House and the poetry editor of The Paris Review. Galway Kinnell, translator of Bonnefoy’s first book of poems, Du mouvement et de l’immobilité de Douve, joined us. He and Galassi had formed a project for translating the four books of poems Bonnefoy had published up to then . The first two were to be published by Ohio University . . .

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Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel

August 29, 2016
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Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel

Kirkus Reviews on Edmundo Paz Soldán’s Norte: A Novel, a refreshingly singular and urgent look at life “after” the US–Mexico border from one of Latin America’s most prominent literary voices, in a starred review: The lives of a mentally ill savant, a young artist, and a serial killer converge in a powerful novel that shuttles across the U.S.–Mexico border. The wide-ranging Bolivia-born Paz Soldán delivers a small cross-section of very different lives of Latinos in the United States, better to counter casual generalizations about them. But its key strength is its well-formed individual characterizations. In 2008, Michelle is a Bolivia-born college student and budding graphic novelist in Texas who risks being pulled astray by hard-partying friends and a professor she’s sleeping with. In 1931, Martín is a schizophrenic Mexican immigrant who becomes a celebrated outsider artist after his institutionalization in California. (Michelle will be invited to write about Martín’s work decades later.) And in northern Mexico in 1984, Jesús has begun his career as a serial killer, hopping trains across the border to hunt likely victims in Texas. Jesús, modeled after the real-life “Railroad Killer” Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, hogs the novel’s stage, largely thanks to Paz Soldán’s visceral descriptions of his killings, which rival Bret . . .

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August excerpt: Looking for “The Stranger”

August 19, 2016
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August excerpt: Looking for “The Stranger”

“Existentialist Twins”* Although few Americans had read The Stranger in French—it had been hard enough to find a copy in wartime France—word of the novel had crossed the ocean. Blanche Knopf had founded the US publishing  house Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., with her husband Alfred in 1945, and she had a special interest in publishing English translations of contemporary European literature. She had been cut off from France for the duration of the war, but by February 1945 she was back in touch with Jenny Bradley, Knopf’s agent in Paris. Sartre had lauded a new Camus novel, still in manuscript, called The Plague, in a lecture he gave at Harvard, and Blanche Knopf cabled Bradley, asking to see the proofs. The Plague, with its link to the suffering and heroism of France during the German occupation, was bound to make a splash, and she understood that Knopf might also have to buy The Stranger in order to get it. Alfred Knopf cabled Bradley in February, eager to acquire The Plague, although Camus hadn’t yet finished it, but he was still hesitating about The Stranger. In March 1945, he made up his mind and offered $350 for it. *** Not an ideological or interpretive divide, not even . . .

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On the anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire

August 5, 2016
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On the anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire

Reader’s note: last year, to honor the anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, we posted the below note, along with an excerpt from Norman Maclean’s Young Men and Fire. Today marks 67 years since the events of August 5, 1949, so in tribute, we repost the excerpt and its accompanying introduction. More on the matter, of course, can be gleaned from Maclean’s singular work, while additional background on its author can be found in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, where a piece on fly-fishing in Montana turns into a meditation on Maclean’s writing and life. *** August 5, 2015, marks the 66th anniversary of the Mann Gulch wildfire, which eventually spread to cover 4,500 acres of Montana’s Gates of the Mountain Wilderness in Helena National Forest, and claimed the lives of 12 of the 15 elite US Forest Service Smokejumpers, who acted as first responders in the moments before the blaze jumped up a slope and “blew up” its surrounding grass. Haunted by the event, Montana native, author, and former University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean devoted much of his life’s work to researching and writing an account of the events that unfolded that first week of August 1949, which would met publication posthumously two . . .

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Thomas Bernhard’s Walking is the #1 funniest book of all time LOL

June 2, 2016
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Thomas Bernhard’s Walking is the #1 funniest book of all time LOL

Can’t make this stuff up. From Adam Ehrlich Sachs’s “The 10 Funniest Books” at Publishers Weekly: 1. Walking by Thomas Bernhard  Bernhard’s oeuvre is the longest, funniest joke in literature. If I were being honest this list would probably consist of nine Bernhard books and maybe one by Beckett. But I’ll go with this novella for its extremely long, hysterically funny description of Karrer’s mental breakdown in a clothing store, when he tries to convince a salesman, at some length, that the pants they are selling, when held up to the light, display a number of thin spots that can only be attributed to the use of shoddy materials, materials which Karrer insists (for page after page after page) must be what he refers to as “Czechoslovakian rejects.” To read more about (the patently absurd/deeply wounded/somberly screwball, which might be synonyms for “funny,” so we’ll take it) Walking, click here.   . . .

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The Dead Ladies Art of Memoir Writing

May 25, 2016
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The Dead Ladies Art of Memoir Writing

From “Live through This,” by Catherine Hollis, her recent essay at Public Books on how much of our own lives we construct when we read and write memoirs: In The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries, Jessa Crispin, the scrappy founding editor of Bookslut and Spolia, finds herself at an impasse when a suicide threat brings the Chicago police to her apartment. She needs a reason to live, and turns to the dead for help. “The writers and artists and composers who kept me company in the late hours of the night: I needed to know how they did it.” How did they stay alive? She decides to go visit them—her “dead ladies”—in Europe, and leave the husk of her old life behind. Crispin’s list includes men and women, exiles and expatriates, each of whom is paired with a European city. Her first port of call is Berlin, and William James. Rather than explicitly narrating her own struggle, Crispin focuses on James’s depressive crisis in Berlin, where as a young man he learned how to disentangle his thoughts and desires from his father’s. Out of James’s own decision to live—“my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”—the . . .

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Jessa Crispin on US literary culture

May 16, 2016
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Jessa Crispin on US literary culture

From Michelle Dean’s profile of Jessa Crispin for the Guardian: Staying outside of that mainstream, Crispin said, had some professional costs. “We didn’t generate people that are now writing for the New Yorker,” Crispin said. “If we had, I would have thought that we were failures anyway.” She’s bored by the New Yorker. In fact, of the current crop of literary magazines, she said only the London Review of Books currently interested her, especially articles by Jenny Diski or Terry Castle. Of the New Yorker itself, she said: “It’s like a dentist magazine.” Crispin’s general assessment of the current literary situation is fairly widely shared in, of all places, New York. It is simply rarely voiced online. Writers, in an age where an errant tweet can set off an avalanche of op-eds more widely read than the writers’ actual books, are cautious folk. And Crispin can’t stand the way some of these people have become boosters of the industry just at the moment of what she sees as its decline. “I don’t know why people are doing this, but people are identifying themselves with the system,” Crispin said. “So if you attack publishing, they feel that they are personally being attacked. Which . . .

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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

April 8, 2016
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Levi Stahl on Ted Cruz and Kenneth Widmerpool

For those of you who missed it, here is Levi Stahl’s 31-part Twitter essay from late last week, which responds to an op-ed in the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat comparing Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz to Widmerpool, the anti-anti-hero from Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time:   To read more about A Dance to the Music of Time, click here. . . .

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